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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Religion and Civics: Ornery Bedfellows

This week, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the relationship of American religion to politics, particularly about how our religious views and our civic responsibilities interrelate. This small journey began for me this past Sunday, when I felt compelled to place membership at Skillman Church of Christ.

As I had previously written, Skillman has recently become a place of great interest to me. I’m not really sure precisely what is drawing me there, but I have learned to follow the spiritual leadings that tug at me and figure out the reasons for the tugs when I can look back on my personal history.

I sat in the pew at Skillman last Sunday and was moved once again by the spirit of the congregation. From my limited experience, the members at Skillman appear to be warm and friendly and committed to making a difference in the lives of those in their surrounding community.

But one element distracted me from my spiritual experience, and that element was simply the presence of an American flag displayed behind the pulpit. Now, to be fair, the flag was balanced out by a wooden cross placed on the right side of the pulpit. At least in a visual sense, Skillman seems determined to celebrate both their American heritage and their religious heritage on equal terms.

My first thoughts were about the irony of a church of Christ displaying either symbol during worship. Historically, most of the traditional CoCs have shunned symbols of cultural or religious significance in an attempt to avoid the historical baggage that comes from the 2,000 years of Christian history that our movement was attempting to reject and reform.

I could go on about the nature of symbolism and religion, but that is not the purpose of this entry. The flag was merely the beginning of the journey for me. (And lest anyone be confused, the presence of the flag did not stop me from placing membership, I found its presence more a curiosity than an offense).

On Monday, these thoughts led me back to the news articles I had read on Thursday and Friday about how James Dobson and the Focus on the Family were condemning a video featuring SpongeBob Squarepants (among several other cartoon characters) created to promote multiculturalism because the company who distributed it has posted a “Tolerance Pledge” on their Web site that states:

“Tolerance is a personal decision that comes from a belief that every person is a treasure. I believe that America's diversity is its strength. I also recognize that ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry can turn that diversity into a source of prejudice and discrimination.

In my MTS blog, I wrote a more extended blog about the Spongebob controversy, but the issue itself raised some thoughts in me concerning how religious sentiment and American values. These thoughts continued each morning when I read the morning paper.

If you've been reading the news this week, you've undoubtedly come across the stories about how several key groups in the religious right are now threatening to hold up the president's social security initiative if he doesn't publicly support the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

During the campaign, the President avoided outright support of this issue, stating only his personal opinions and citing vaguely what his views concerning what the definition of "family" were.

Let me mention that I do not believe that this president wants to support this amendment for two reasons:

1) It's not going to pass, and that defeat would mar his legacy.

2)George Bush has repeatedly reached out to the homosexual community, both as a governor of Texas and particularly during his first presidential campaign. I just don't think this ban is consistent with his personal politics.

However, The Bush campaign courted these religious groups for their organizational power and their votes and now they have the ability to mar his legacy and hold up his proposed initiatives.

But where are the divisions between our faith culture and the belief that our country should support and protect the free exchange of ideas? I find myself very uncomfortable with the prospect of using religious influence to shape politics, though I do acknowledge that my faith does dramatically affect my politics. If I did not care for others, if I were not called to put aside differences for the sake of opening communication to deliver the message I am charged with, I would probably be more comfortable with the actions of Focus on the Family and those who would mix religion and civic responsibility into a single homogenous cultural worldview.

But whether we’re discussing bringing the American flag into our religious worship or taking the cross into the White House, I just don’t see how we can serve two masters. From my perspective, the two sets of ideals and principles are at odds with one another (at least, most of the time).

Well, this has bee a rather long and rambling entry. And once again, no answers. Just more thoughts to consider.


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